City aims for more diverse workforce

Renton’s new hiring policy tries to eliminate bias.

Those applying for a job in the city of Renton will now see a change in the hiring practice.

The city announced last week it was implementing a new hiring policy in order to further their goal of inclusion.

In order to eliminate implicit bias during the selection process, online applications will now initially be reviewed without names, home addresses or other identifiable information of the candidates. The strategy was put in place in order to increase the diversity of those applicants that were chosen to be interviewed as well as have a workforce that is reflective of the diversity of Renton residents.

“An opportunity arose for us to help diminish the effects of implicit bias by utilizing anonymous applications,” said Human Resources Administrator Ellen Bradley-Mak. “(Our staff) looked at best practices that are done in the nation and other places. It was an idea that came up that was very compelling and very well-supported by our mayor. We began to put that in as a strategy, this week. It started on Monday, Jan. 1.”

“The City of Renton is committed to inclusion and a workforce that reflects the city’s population,” said Mayor Denis Law in a press release. “By implementing these changes we improve our opportunities to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications and hire the most competent candidates.”

By removing easily identifiable information from an application, hiring managers will have to determine whether an applicant should advance to an interview stage by his or her credentials and qualifications.

“We know that because we have implicit bias, when some sees a name that’s different than what they would consider it to be mainstream, they do make a judgement about that name,” said Bradley-Mak. “It doesn’t always mean that person won’t be invited, but we believe the majority of the time it could mean that.”

The city has been tackling issues of inclusion since 2014. It hired Benita Horn as an inclusion and equity consultant to address systemic issues within the city and provide solutions to build a more inclusive public sector. She has held city-wide training on implicit bias, discrimination and other similar topics.

Horn worked with city officials to identify the demographics of applicants and found a lack of racial and gender diversity.

“(We) noticed there were gaps initially who were applying,” said Bradley-Mak. “So we closed those gaps by going to career fairs, was doing very specific outreach to certain community groups, under the mayor’s task force. That was met with a lot of success.”

But the journey wasn’t complete. Once the applicant pool started mirroring community demographics, city staff noticed the a different sort of gap.

According to the HR inclusion tactical plan, recruitment data from the second quarter of 2016 indicated the percentage of white applicants that progressed to the interview phase increased from 56 percent applying to 79 percent receiving an interview. Of the 5 percent Hispanic applicants who applied, 7 percent of those received an interview. American Indian or Alaskan Native candidates made up 1 percent of the applicants and 2 percent of those invited to interview. However the remaining ethnic groups experienced an inverse effect. About 10 percent of applicants were African Americans but only 2 percent progressed to an interview. Of the 12 percent Asian applicants, only 5 percent were selected for an interview. Similarly, of the 2 percent of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander applicants, only 1 percent of applicants were selected to be interviewed. People who identified as two or more races made up 7 percent of the applicants but only 3 percent moved onto the selection process.

“We were getting the applicants, we were getting the diverse pool, but we weren’t necessarily seeing the diverse pool when it came to who was being interviewed,” said Kim Gilman, HR labor manager. “Our intent in alliance to the business plan was really to make sure we’re offering diverse opportunities. I think this is one step. It’s not the only step.”

Bradley-Mak said the anonymous applications are one of the many steps that will further the city’s business goal of “building an inclusive informed city with opportunities for all.”

“Increasing the diversity of thoughts, ideas and creative approaches and problem solving will help us with creative approaches. It will help us reach out to our customers, who are the citizens of Renton, in more creative approaches we hadn’t thought of before,” she said.

“I am proud of the efforts we are making as a city to be more inclusive and to combat implicit bias,” said City Council member Ed Prince. “Ensuring that our work force reflects the diversity of our city is very important to me and my council colleagues.”

Apart from allowing candidates from being anonymous during interviews, the city is also using equity lens to develop and edit job classifications, using behavior-based and competency-based interview questions for hiring managers and interview panel members, expanding diversity in hiring panels and maintaining a database of panel members, requiring orientation for internal and external interview panel members and updating and expanding online resource tools for hiring managers, according to a city press release.

The goal is to implement these practices and strategies within the next two years.

The long term plan for the city also includes designating internships annuals to pipeline candidates, develop and incorporate inclusion principles into job announcements and recruitment materials.